All In The Campaign for Blair Academy 2018-2025
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Meet Blair’s Counseling Team: Part One
Ashley Schreyer

As the hustle and bustle of wrapping up another semester at Blair Academy draws to a close and students depart for a well-deserved break, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the members of our community who support students and faculty alike during this formative time. Blair’s counseling team comprises three full-time, licensed clinicians who prepare students for the challenges that life will inevitably throw at them: Director of Counseling Ally Thomas and school counselors Melany Jimenez and Tara Prezioso ’96. They provide individual, solutions-focused counseling, meeting students where they are and identifying goals in collaboration with them. In addition to offering on-the-spot and 24/7 emergency on-call support and coordinating services with outside partners, the counseling team is focused on ensuring all students have access to a trusted adult equipped to support them. To learn more about this dynamic team and how they support such a diverse community here at Blair, we sat down with them to discuss the important work coming out of their offices on the third floor of Clinton Hall. What follows is part one of a two-part series, diving into the inner workings of counseling at Blair. Next week we will share the counseling team’s focus on the new year and how they will continue to support the community moving forward.

Q: The counseling team is involved with several student clubs at Blair. Why is this important and what are you all involved in?

melany jimenez headshot

A: [Ms. Jimenez] The counseling team tries to work with students outside of the counseling office to build relationships and connections with students whom we would otherwise not be able to reach. The hope is that this works as a preventative measure. We aim to build connections with students so that if the need arises in the future, they feel comfortable reaching out to us for support. The counseling team works closely with a number of student groups. 

Project Ally is Blair’s student-led mental health initiative that the counseling office works closely with to support the community. This year, they’ve raised awareness for mental health through informative School Meeting announcements and events like No Shave November (advocating for men’s mental health) and Festive Friends (sending holiday goodie bags to Blair community members to promote connection), which raised money for the JED Foundation. This spring they’ll continue to host similar events, especially as we enter Mental Health Awareness Month in May. 

I work with students from the Black and Latinx Student Union (BaLSU) and Be Well @ Blair, our peer health education group that focuses on creating positive change on campus through student-led talks on topics such as creating healthy habits, managing stress, substance use prevention, discussing mental health, healthy relationships and setting boundaries. These topics are student generated and take advantage of the value of having students as the voice of these important lessons. 

BaLSU is a club meant to create community among the Black and Latinx students at Blair, and it is open to students of any background. Club members work to build connections with other students and faculty members and share Black and Latinx traditions, music and culture with the entire School. Being part of both of these student organizations has given me the opportunity to work and build connections and relationships with students outside of the counseling office. 

Tara advises the Healthy Relationships Committee, a group focused on strengthening connections within the Blair community through different efforts, including collaborating with [Head of School] Peter Curran’s office for the student gratitude cards, Blairstock—the spring music festival—and School Meeting announcements that focus on things like managing stress during the college application process.

tara prezioso headshot

Q: As a Blair graduate, what has it been like coming back to support this community? 

A: [Mrs. Prezioso] Rewarding! I’ve spent most of my career after graduate school working with adolescents and their families who are facing a range of challenges, but to be able to come back to Blair and do the work I love in this community has been a great experience. When I was a student at Blair, there was no such thing as a counseling department on campus. I’m happy to see Blair so committed to supporting students’ mental health and excited to collaborate on new initiatives that focus on well-being with faculty and students alike.

Q: Everyone on the team brings a different background and career experience to Blair. How does that help in supporting this unique community? 

ally thomas headshot

A: [Mrs. Thomas] Research shows that having accessible mental health services is key when it comes to teen mental health. We’re fortunate to have three full-time licensed clinicians in our counseling department with a range of experience. There are common themes in our backgrounds, but there are clear differences that enhance our collaboration with one another and inform the work we do as part of a boarding school community.

I started my career in community mental health where I would go to schools, client homes and other community settings to provide clinical care to children, adolescents and their families. I wasn’t just hearing about my clients’ experiences, I was seeing it in their own environments. I was able to observe the way adults worked to support kids and I saw real-time intervention that helped me see the true impact a systems approach could have. I also worked in clinical settings with adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system, supporting families experiencing domestic violence and consulting for child protection. Seeing the impact that each of these systems had on a teen’s life and supporting them in navigating these challenges has informed my approach in working with students, and I’ve carried these experiences with me in my role here at Blair.

[Ms. Jimenez] My experience consists of working in a variety of settings, including a hospital, where I worked in an inpatient psychiatric and a medical unit, as well as in nonprofit community organizations providing individual and group counseling and therapy in both English and Spanish to victims of abuse, including women, children, teens and families. In working within these different systems, it has been helpful to use the framework of looking at our experiences and how they shape and impact ourselves and our behaviors. These opportunities have allowed me to grow and develop skills that have helped me connect with the diverse backgrounds of the students in the Blair community. 

[Mrs. Prezioso] I began my social work career providing individual, family and group counseling in an inpatient psychiatric unit, focusing on assessment, stabilization and treatment planning. I then shifted gears to work within a different part of the New Jersey Children’s System of Care, advocating for and supporting children within the juvenile justice and family court systems. I’ve also spent the last 15 years as an intensive in-community therapist, providing needs assessments and clinical intervention in clients’ homes with the goal of keeping children with their families and in their communities. These roles have allowed me to develop a keen understanding of the layers that make up both the challenges adolescents face and solutions we can help them construct. My experiences within these systems shape the way I continue my work to support Blair students, focusing on collaboration with a holistic approach. 

Q: What does “solutions-focused counseling” mean in terms of the care you provide for students?

A: [Mrs. Prezioso] By definition, solution-focused counseling is meant to be student-centered, short-term and goal-directed. This approach is helpful for all students when addressing whatever challenges they are faced with at Blair—from managing stress and anxiety to roommate conflict to establishing healthy boundaries. It’s also very practical as it’s effective not only for students we see regularly but also for the student who wants to stop by one time, for a really specific challenge. Instead of focusing on the past, solution-focused counseling offers a way for students to construct positive outcomes moving forward.

In the counseling department, it’s important to us that we support students in finding the tools that work for the individual student and meeting them where they're at in the moment. We want our students to understand that they have agency as they examine different perspectives and solutions. Our focus is always to empower students when faced with challenges and to help them realize that they have the ability to make positive choices.
 

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